Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New Year's 2020

As has been our custom for quite some time, we will probably usher in the New Year at about 10:30 Central time from our living room (or, more likely, our bed).  We've often said that New Year's Eve is amateur night, and we don't care to participate. Whatever time zone you're in and however you plan to mark the exit of the old year and entrance of the new--happy new year. 

Thanks to each of you who've made this "second profession" of writing an interesting and (mostly) pleasant experience for me. After leaving medicine after so many decades, I probably would have been bored with inactivity.

I'll be back next year. Meanwhile, however you celebrate it, here's hoping 2020 is great for you.

 (And for those of you who can hardly wait for my next novel, I'll share the cover after the first of the year. Soon, people. Very soon).

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas, 2019

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned... For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."


May you have God's peace in your heart, not just as you celebrate Christ's birthday, but every day in the year to come. Merry Christmas.

(My next post will be New Year's Eve. Enjoy the holiday.)

Friday, December 20, 2019

A Texas Christmas

I've had several requests to republish this. Hope it makes the Christmas season more real for you.  It did for me while I was writing it. 

The young couple knew the long trip would be difficult, but it was the Depression, and although there was no work in the small Texas town where they had started their married life, the husband had heard of work in California. So they packed up their car, praying that it would hold up for the trip. The wife’s father slipped a couple of crumpled bills into her hand and said, “In case of emergency, Honey.” Her mother stood nearby, twisting her apron, obviously worrying about her daughter but just as obviously trying not to show it.

The couple used up the last of the daylight driving. They had reached deep West Texas when they realized it was time to stop for the night. “We can’t spare the money for a hotel,” the husband said. “I’m going to see if the folks at one of these farms will put us up for the night.”

They pushed on between pastures marked by sagging barbed wire, the road a winding black ribbon in the flickering yellow headlights. At last the driver spied a cluster of lights in the distance. “I’ll try there.”

The man who came to the door wore overalls and a gray, long-sleeved undershirt. He didn’t seem to take to the idea of this couple spending the night, but his wife came up behind him and said, “Oh, can’t you see she’s pregnant. The hands are out in the north pasture with the herd, and the bunkhouse is empty. Let them stay there.”

In the middle of the night, the young husband was awakened by his wife’s cries. “I’m in labor.”

“But, you’re not due until—“

“Just get help. Please.”

He did. In a few minutes, the rancher’s wife bustled in, laden with towels and blankets. “Just put that down,” she said to her husband, who trailed her carrying a bucket of hot water in one hand. “Then you two men get out.”

Soon, the men tired of waiting outside and the rancher grudgingly invited the stranger into the kitchen. They’d almost exhausted a pot of extra strong coffee when they heard a faint cry. Then, “You men can come back now.”

The two men were halfway to the bunkhouse, following the faint light of a kerosene lantern, when three weary cowboys rode up and climbed off their mounts. “We saw lights on here. What’s going on?”
            
“Come and see,” the young husband said. And they did. 

When he saw the mother holding a wrinkled, fussing newborn close to her, the gruff old rancher turned to his wife and said, “Well, Mother, I’m glad you talked me into letting these folks stay.”

“We had to,” she said. “It was a wonderful gift for me, seeing that little baby born. Who knows? Maybe he’ll grow up to be someone special.”

Now imagine that the scene wasn’t West Texas, it was Bethlehem. It didn’t take place in a bunkhouse, it occurred in a stable. And it wasn’t just a baby—this was God’s own Son--the Christ child was God in blue jeans, as one of my friends puts it. Does that make it more real to you? I hope so.

During this season, as you think about Jesus’ birth, don’t put him in spotless white swaddling clothes in the middle of a Christmas card. Picture him in the most humble surroundings your imagination can conjure up, the Son of God Himself in a diaper, born to give each of us the best gift we could ever imagine. 

Merry Christmas. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Christmas, Already?

I look at the calendar and do a double take. Surely it can't be a week until Christmas. Maybe you're ready, just waiting for the big day. But some of us are not. Around our house, it appears that my wife will be, as always, able to pull it all together, but like a duck, the surface may be calm but below the surface is furious paddling.

What's on your to-do list for Christmas? Is it getting out the cards? Our friends who usually send several pages about their past adventures simply sent us a simple photo card this year. Others are sending their Christmas greetings electronically, while many simply find the practice too time consuming in the midst of everything else that demands their attention. We used to use these cards to keep up with our friends and relatives. Now we depend on social media.

Is it the gifts? Have we spent as much on couple A as on couples B and C? Did we remember to get a gift for that person? Did they give us one last year? Is a gift card out because it's too impersonal? If we decide to give one, how much should it be for? Our society has become fixated on gifts, without thinking of the Gift we've all received.

At Christmas we celebrate Jesus' birth. Oh, I know that it probably happened in the summer (let's not get into that right now).  We're celebrating, so take advantage of it. I'm noticing that songs about Santa and snow are replacing traditional Christmas hymns, but they haven't drowned them out completely. In the midst of all this, let me suggest that you stop and consider the reason for the holiday. And thank Him for the best gift of all. I will.

You may wish to check out my guest post at Carrie Schmidt's blog, and register to win a signed copy of my Christmas novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Writing: Effect Of The Holidays

At one time, I never gave a thought to when my publisher was going to release my next book (except to wish it could be sooner). However, one of the things "hybrid" or "indie" authors learn is that pretty much everything is up to them--writing, revising, publication, marketing, the whole bag. And that includes choosing a time for release of the work. 

We're always told to "wait until it's ready." But that's a hard lesson to learn. Like most authors, I felt that my first book (and those that followed) was ready for release as soon as it was written. But I finally learned that editing will improve the book--even though it takes time.

Not a Christmas novel or novella? I can live with that. Enjoy the fruits of my colleagues labors and celebrate the season. How about right after the new year? No, it's best to wait until at least mid-January, and maybe later. After twelve novels, seven novellas, and one non-fiction book, I've finally learned to wait. Maybe I've become smarter in my old age. Then again...

So, you'll see Critical Decision after the first of the year. Meanwhile, enjoy the season--and remember the reason for it. Blessings, all.





Monday, December 09, 2019

Christmas Scavenger Hunt

       
Why did I write a Christmas novella, you ask? Why did I write Silent Night, Deadly Night? For a good while on this road to writing, I was content to simply write novels for a publisher, do the work of responding to edits, cooperate with the marketing department, and introduce the books when they were published. Around Christmas, I took note of the various Christmas-themed novels and novellas published, but didn't make the connection with those I'd written. But then one day it dawned on me that such novels were the works of authors like me. The difference was that I didn’t have one out there. So I decided to write one. And that's the origin of Silent Night, Deadly Night.

The work is short (that's when I first became acquainted with the term, "novella") but I think it's enjoyable. It begins with Christmas lights and snow, but those lights illuminate a body. Then the questions start. Who is dead? Why was she killed? There's more of this labyrinth to navigate before it all ends. Meanwhile, will someone else die?

      To learn more about the novella (and purchase it if it intrigues you), go to its site on Amazon. While you’re there, look for the answer to this question. Other than the family members, who else thinks they should be considered when allotting the estate of the dead woman? When you have the answer, add it to this form (where you'll find the URL for the next blog if you don't get it from this post), then head there. When you've done all 24, you're finished. 

      The next author on the tour is Zoe M. McCarthy, who is telling us all about her  book Gift of the Magpie. You can find it at this linkRemember that the round-robin will end on December 16th at 11:59 PM EST! And good luck.


(By the way, this will replace my usual Tuesday blog post. Come back on Friday for a holiday post).


Friday, December 06, 2019

Christmas Without Them

It's been many years now since the death of my first wife, but I still get requests for this piece that I  wrote after my first Christmas without her. I've been gratified at the continuing ministry of my book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death of a SpouseDespite having had multiple novels and novellas published, this work of non-fiction remains the most satisfying among them all. I hope this piece ministers to those who are finding this season especially tough.

        THE FIRST CHRISTMAS WITHOUT THEM
         After the death of a loved one, every holiday that follows carries its own load of renewed grief, but there’s little doubt that Christmas—especially that first Christmas without him or her—is the loneliest time of the year. 
         After the death of my wife, Cynthia, I was determined to keep things as “normal” as possible for that first Christmas. Since this was an impossible goal, the stress and depression I felt were simply multiplied by my efforts. My initial attempt to prepare the Christmas meal for my family was a disaster, yet I found myself terribly saddened by the sight of my daughter and daughters-in-law in the kitchen doing what Cynthia used to do. Putting the angel on the top of the tree, a job that had always been hers, brought more tears. It just wasn’t right—and it wasn’t ever going to be again.
         Looking back now, I know that the sooner the grieving family can establish a “new normal,” the better things will be. Change the menu of the traditional meal. Get together at a different home. Introduce variety. Don’t strive for the impossible task of recreating Christmases past, but instead take comfort in the eternal meaning of the season. 
         The first Christmas will involve tears, but that’s an important part of recovery. Don’t avoid mentioning the loved one you’ve lost. Instead, talk about them freely. Share the good memories. And if you find yourself laughing, consider those smiles a cherished legacy of the person whom you miss so very much.
         For most of us, grieving turns our focus inward. We grieve for ourselves, for what might have been, for what we once had that has been taken from us. The Christmas season offers an opportunity to direct our efforts outward. During this season for giving, do something for others. Make a memorial gift in memory of your loved one to your local food bank, the Salvation Army, or your favorite charity. Involve yourself in a project through your church. Consider a local emphasis like Toys for Tots or the Angel Tree--shop for a child whose smile you may not see but which will warm your heart nevertheless.
          When you’re grieving, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by Christmas, especially the modern version. The echoes of angel voices are drowned out by music from iPods and cell phones. The story of Jesus’ birth gives way to reruns of “Frosty, The Snowman.” Gift cards from Best Buy and Wal-Mart replace the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If you find the season getting you down, the burden of your loss too great to bear, read once more the Christmas story in Luke, chapter 2. Even if you celebrate it alone, you can remember the true meaning of Christmas.  


Tuesday, December 03, 2019

A Flurry Of Holidays

This year, there is only a short time between Thanksgiving (officially set as the fourth Thursday of November) and Christmas (which has, since we adopted the Julian calendar, been celebrated on December 25). For those who are still digesting their Thanksgiving meal and haven't yet started any Christmas shopping, a word of advice. Don't try to outdo Uncle Joe and Aunt Jean in your giving. That is, don't simply consider the price of the gift. Think about its meaning.

Want an example? One of the difficult decisions faced by shoppers is what to do about some in-laws and friends. Do they really need another set of barbecue tongs or a new case for their smart phone? Consider, instead, taking the money you'd spend on a gift that may or may not be appropriate (and it gets harder every year to find one), and donate it in their name to a worthy cause. Don't have one? I'll bet you do. It could be a sacred one, a secular one, a cause that you know is dear to the recipient's heart or to your own. But so long as you choose one that will resonate with the event we celebrate on December 25, it will be money well spent. Thank about it.

What do you think? I'd love to hear.